Mass Media

Turkey Table of Contents

The Turkish news media consist of a state-operated radio and television broadcasting system and privately owned press and broadcasting operations. Newspapers are not subject to prior censorship, but a 1983 press law restricts them from reporting information deemed to fall within the sphere of national security and prohibits the publication of papers that promote "separatism." Violations of these restrictions result in the closing down of newspapers and the prosecution of journalists. Except for official press releases, most reports on military operations in southeastern Turkey and almost all accounts of public speeches calling for Kurdish cultural rights prompt state prosecutors to come before security courts calling for judicial investigations of possible press law violations. Amnesty International has documented the detention of scores of journalists who wrote independent articles about conditions in the southeast during 1991-92; in some instances, journalists were injured during interrogations or held for prolonged periods without access to attorneys. Twenty-eight journalists were tried and sentenced to prison in the first six months of 1993 alone. Many of them worked for the Istanbul daily Ozgur Gundem , which has regularly featured stories on conditions in the Kurdish areas and has carried interviews with both PKK guerrillas and Turkish soldiers. In an apparent attempt to halt publication of such articles, the government arrested the newspaper's editor in chief, Davut Karadag, in July 1993 and charged him with spreading separatist propaganda. Subsequently, editors at Medya Gunesi, Aydinlik , and other newspapers were detained on similar charges.

The publication of materials thought to offend public morals is also grounds for suspending a periodical or confiscating a book. The Censor's Board on Obscene Publications has responsibility for reviewing potentially offensive material and deciding on appropriate action. The weekly Aktuel frequently questions the value of, and need for, such a board in a democracy, using biting satire to deliver its message. In 1993 the editor of the weekly and one of its freelance columnists were arrested and charged with insulting the board.

Newspapers and Periodicals

In 1994 there were more than thirty daily newspapers in Turkey. The mass-circulation dailies are based in Istanbul and are distributed nationally. These include the country's largest newspaper, Hürriyet (Freedom), which has a circulation of more than 850,000, and three other papers, each with daily circulations ranging from 200,000 to 300,000: Günaydin (Good Morning), Tercuman (Interpreter), and Milliyet (Nationality). A smaller paper, Cumhuriyet (Republic), is influential because it is read widely by the country's economic and political elite. In all, more than a dozen dailies are published in Istanbul. Nine dailies are published in Ankara and three in Izmir. Other major cities, including Adana, Bursa, Diyarbakir, Gaziantep, Konya, and Mersin, have at least one local daily newspaper. In addition to the newspapers, twenty weeklies and a variety of biweekly, monthly, bimonthly, and quarterly journals also are published.

The main news agency in Turkey is the official Anadolu Ajansi (Anatolian Agency), founded by Atatürk in 1920. Its primary function is to issue news bulletins and printed information within the country and for distribution abroad. As do most newspapers, Turkish radio and television depend on the agency as a primary source of domestic news. In 1994 it had regional offices in Turkey's major cities as well as correspondents throughout the country. It also had foreign correspondents in all major world cities. In addition to the Anatolian Agency, several private agencies serve the press.

Radio and Television

The government of Turkey began radio broadcasting in 1927. Atatürk and his colleagues perceived radio as a means to promote modernization and nationalism and thus created a Bureau of the Press Directorate to oversee programming and ensure that it served national goals. In 1964 the government established the Turkish Radio and Television Corporation (Türkiye Radyo Televizyon Kurumu--TRT) to expand radio facilities and develop public television. Subsequently, the transmission power of radio stations greatly increased, as did the number of licensed receivers. (The government required purchase of a license for ownership of radios, and later of televisions.) By 1994 almost the entire nation had radio coverage, with thirty-six transmitters beaming a total power of 5,500 kilowatts to an estimated 10 million receivers. TRT also broadcasts programs abroad in Turkish and in several foreign languages, including Arabic, Bulgarian, Greek, and Persian.

Television developed more slowly than radio, mainly because the government considered it a luxury. Television broadcasting began through a technical-assistance agreement between Turkey and the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany). With the aid of the equipment and technical personnel provided under this agreement, TRT inaugurated the country's first public television station in Ankara in 1968. Gradually new stations were opened in Istanbul, Izmir, and other cities. Investment in television facilities accelerated after 1972, and during the following decade television replaced radio as the country's most important mass medium. By 1994 the estimated number of television sets--10 million--equaled the number of radio receivers.

TRT had a constitutionally mandated monopoly on radio and television broadcasting prior to 1993. It financed its operations through limited allocations it received from the government's general budget and income derived from radio and television license fees. TRT news presentations and documentaries tended to avoid controversy; television viewers often criticized the programs as dull. Dissatisfaction with public television prompted proposals beginning in the late 1980s to amend the constitution to permit private, commercial broadcasting. Opposition to private broadcasting came from the military and other groups that feared loss of government control over programming. It was not until 1993 that the National Assembly approved legislation to authorize private radio and television in tandem with public broadcasting. Even before their legalization, however, private stations had begun to broadcast programs, many of which disturbed officials in the national security bureaucracy. For example, in the summer of 1993 the State Security Court opened an investigation into a public affairs program of a private Istanbul channel, charging that the program had spread separatist propaganda by including Kurdish guests.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress